Québec’s ESBA comes out against CAQ plan to abolish school boards

Québec English School Board Association Director Russell Copeman

Following last week’s announcement about the CAQ administration’s plan to follow through with its plans to abolish Québec’s school boards, Québec English School Board Association (QESBA) director Russell Copeman told The Suburban that he expects the association to lead the judicial fight against the bill.

“Not only is it an offense against local democracy, but the CAQ’s new bill (Bill #40) clearly doesn’t meet the Supreme Court’s criteria under section 23 of the Canadian Charter,” said Copeman. “If it goes to court, I have no doubt the QESBA will lead the charge.”

While Québec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge described Bill 40 as a radical plan to reform public education in Québec, the new law is expected to abolish local school boards in order to replace them with so-called ‘service centers’ made up of 16 people – essentially volunteers as they will not be paid for their service. Although board members will be paid $100 to participate in their monthly meetings, the money is little more than pocket change when compared to the responsibility that defines a responsible commissioner’s work. While the law will allow the province’s 9 English language public school boards to elect their commissioners (as usual) in order to accommodate minority language community rights to operate and manage their own schools, the ‘service centers’ will still be responsible to the minister and his (her) bureaucracy who will effectively have the last word about public education in Québec. According to Copeman, it’s the end of local school board democracy because he doubts that the new service centers will have the kind of power and responsibility to be able to provide both the oversight and the scrutiny that’s required to manage and operate an efficient school board.

“It’s not realistic,” said Copeman.”The truth is that they’re creating a vacuum that will eliminate any serious oversight, and it won’t be long before the bureaucrats move in to take over the schools.”

As the EMSB (English Montreal School Board) recently set a new record (92.4%) for having the highest success rate among all of Québec’s school boards, NDG school commissioner Joseph Lalla still cannot understand why the government would wish to destroy a successful school board with such enviable results. Others, including a massive majority of English-speaking Quebecers agree as a recent Léger marketing poll indicates that 84% of them believe that eliminating English language school boards will effectively jeopardize their minority language rights.

“It’s a serious assault against our school boards and our democracy,” said Copeman, “...and there’s not much time left to do anything about it.”

Based upon his own experience in Québec’s National Assembly, he believes the CAQ will once again use closure to ram the bill through the Assembly, and Bill 40 will become the law before the end of the session and just in time for the new year.

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